Alexandra Penfold was in fourth grade when she wrote a self evaluation saying, “I love to write and I hope to become an author someday.” It was the same year that a standardized state test labeled her as “minimally proficient at writing,” after she scored only a 4 out of 8.
For those of you who are not familiar with Alexandra Penfold, let me give you a quick breakdown: She has published six books with Random House Publishing and currently holds the #2 spot on The New York Times Best Seller List.
I knew there was a reason I never liked those standardized tests.
After she tweeted a picture of both her fourth grade dreams and her “remedial” test score, captioned with the hashtag #MoreThanATest, the internet has responded with overwhelming support. With over 11K interactions on her tweet, the hashtag is now trending with pictures of other students who are “more than just a test.”
Penfold tells Babble that she was fortunate enough to receive a lot of encouragement in childhood, however.
“I was lucky to have terrific teachers who looked beyond test scores and worked hard to engage all students,” she says. “I was also fortunate to have parents who always supported my dreams and helped me believe I could do anything I put my mind to.”
Nevertheless, her tweet is a breath of fresh air during a time when many students are hunkering down in preparation for the workload that is to come.
In fact, my own fifth-grade daughter started back to school just two weeks ago, and aside from learning math and spelling, they have already had several days of standardized testing.
“Feed your child a healthy, hearty breakfast and make sure that they get a good night’s sleep so that they are prepared to do their best work,” read a handout sent home by her school.
Not even reading to the bottom of the page, I threw it away.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” my daughter asked. “How will I know how to do my best!?”
“Your best will never be something that is sent home in a score,” I told her.
This is something that I actually know personally. When I was a junior in high school, like Penfold, I told my teacher that I wanted to be a writer. She took one look at my writing test scores, laughed, and told me not to worry about my future because “the world needs gas station attendants.”
The very next year, while still in high school, I published my first book and left a signed copy on her desk.
So I’m all about Team Alexandra Penfold and #MoreThanATest. We need to stop freaking our kids out and reducing their worth down to whether they chose circle A or B. How can a test measure creativity? Perseverance? Or any of the other things likely to contribute to a bright future?
It can’t. So why are we making our kids feel like it does?
My daughter’s class is doing testing this week and she’s already cried once because she is so terrified of “failing.” Last year, she scored low on one test section, and homework became a nightmare because she didn’t want to work hard on the subject she had tested poorly in. Instead, she resigned herself to the idea that she was “stupid” because she believed a test had told her so.
I hate that for her. I hate that for all of our kids.
Penfold offers a beautiful alternative in this quote from her new children’s book, All Are Welcome Here: “In our classroom safe and sound, fears are gone and hope is found.”
I want that to be true. I don’t want my child to be scared of going to school because she is terrified to fail. I want our schools to stop pretending that they can measure who our kids are by the paper they wrote on. Shouldn’t the place that we send our kids to every day be a place that encourages their dreams to come true, rather than attempt to measure the likelihood that they won’t? Our kids are worth more than that.
Obviously Penfold agrees.
“For any kid who is struggling, I want to share the words of wisdom my mother shared with me: ‘Don’t let a test tell you who you are. Only you can define who you are and who you will be,'” she says.
Thank you Alexandra, for reminding all of us that potential can’t be measured. We are all more than a test.